Dr. Dina Rose has spent the past 15 years of her life researching, blogging, and teaching families about how to get their children to eat healthy meals. Her new book, “It’s Not About the Broccoli,” takes a different approach to teaching children about health, because, while most books about children and healthy eating are written by nutritionists and revolve around nutrition, Rose, who has a PhD in sociology, focuses her efforts on changing families’ beliefs and behaviors about eating habits.
The book, her first, was published in January, and in it, she discusses her approach to getting kids to forge healthy eating behaviors.
“My PhD is in sociology, and that is what makes my work unique in the field of feeding children, because most people who approach this topic are nutritionists,” Rose says. “But if you think about what sociology is, which is really the study of socialization or how parents transmit norms and values, beliefs, and behaviors, this really fits right into that, because eating is not really about the food per se.”
According to Rose, “Nutrition teaches us about the food, but eating really is about the behavior about how we choose what to eat, when to eat, why to eat, and how much to eat.”
So in order to teach our children how to eat right, Rose says parents have to teach their children how to behave in relation to food.
The first part of Rose’s book takes a look at the ineffective approaches parents use to get their kids to eat. Rose gives a name to each tactic parents use. For example, there are “It’s-Just-A-Phasers,” parents who constantly give-in to their children’s food preferences for chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese. There are also “Comforters,” parents who use food to stop feelings, and “The Food Police,” parents who are so worried about nutrition, that they only allow their children to eat unprocessed, healthy food.
What happens next in the book is what Rose describes as “The Big Fix.” Explaining her solution, Rose writes, “The goal of the teaching approach is simple: to teach children the three habits of proportion, variety, and moderation — in other words, how to eat a variety of foods in moderation and in proportion to their health benefits.”
Rose recommends parents speak frankly with their children about her eating plan before trying it out at home.
“We need to talk to our children about our strategies, and about why we’re asking them to eat in a way that we want them to eat,” Rose says. “We have to explain why they should eat the way they should, because of the value of the concept of proportion, which is you can have any kind of food you want, but we eat certain foods more often than other foods.”
One of the main ideas in Rose’s book is the “rotation rule,” which means kids cannot be served the same meal two days in a row. The objective of her rotation rule is that the more foods you expose your children to, the more they will be willing to try them. She knows kids are scared of tasting new foods, so she recommends parents describe the new dish to them in terms of taste and texture.
Next, Rose suggests families adhere to a schedule for eating. The schedule she proposes allows kids to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a mid-morning snack, and another snack after dinner.
She also recommends that parents serve at each meal one “back-up food” — a food that children like, such as rice. So if children don’t like the main course, they can have a small portion of the “back-up food.”
She is also a proponent of children being in touch with their own feelings of hunger. She tells parents to never tell their children to finish eating all the food on their plates, and if their children are still hungry after dinner, they have to wait until they can eat their after-dinner snack.
In her book, Rose classifies food into three categories:
• “Growing Foods” (fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, chicken, fish, eggs, beans, whole-grain bread, brown rice, nuts, unsweetened cereal, milk, and yogurt)
• “Fun Foods” (vegetables in rich sauces, fruits canned in light syrup, 100-percent fruit juice, red meat, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, pizza, peanut butter and jelly, bagels, pasta, popcorn, pretzels, pancakes, moderately sweetened breakfast cereals, sweetened yogurt, chocolate milk, and cheese)
• “Treat Foods” (any fried vegetables such as French fries, fruits canned in heavy syrup, fried chicken, doughnuts, muffins, heavily sweetened breakfast cereals, ice cream, frozen yogurt, soda, and sports drinks).
Rose doesn’t ban any of these foods. She explains, however, that parents need to show their children that they should eat these food groups in certain proportions: a large portion of “Growing Foods,” a medium-sized amount of “Fun Foods,” and small helping of “Treat Foods.” Rose also believes parents need to teach their children to serve themselves the correct portions of food at meal times.
Rose says that, as a culture, Americans think healthy foods taste bad, and it is up to parents to teach their children the opposite. She suggests parents not serve bland vegetables, but cook them in tasty recipes that children will enjoy.
Rose suggests amping-up the fun at mealtimes by encouraging children to act as food critics, by having them circle different expressions on faces as a way of indicating how much they like a specific food. Her theory is that if children enjoy being food critics, they will be more willing to try new foods. Rose advises never asking your child if he likes or dislikes a food, because children are fickle eaters and change their opinions all of the time.
Another interesting idea that Rose proposes is that when families eat out in restaurants, parents should avoid ordering off of the children’s menu, which usually consists of hot dogs, hamburgers, and mac ’n’ cheese. Instead, Rose suggests children order appetizers off the adult menu, so they cultivate new tastes.
Rose says that as a culture, Americans are so obsessed with their children receiving nutrients, that they don’t recognize the habits they are teaching their children. For example, Rose says some American parents give their kids a cheese stick two to three times a day, because the food contains calcium and protein. What Americans don’t realize is that cheese has a high amount of fat and that parents are actually teaching their children to eat fatty foods two to three times a day.
Providing frightening statistics, such as poor eating habits in childhood lead to poor eating habits as young adults, Rose cautions parents from constantly filling their baby’s sippy cup with fruit juice, because all of that sugary water will lead to a teenager constantly drinking soda.
According to Rose, Americans eat a grain-saturated diet, in which we eat bagels or muffins for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and pasta at dinner. To counter this habit, she suggests parents try to serve a fruit and vegetable at every meal and every snack.
“I don’t expect parents to succeed,” Rose says, “but we should set that intention, because it’s by setting the intention that we flip the proportion so that our children start getting more fruits and vegetables in their diet.”
Rose sums up the premise of her book as, “If knowledge about nutrition were the way to healthy eating, Americans would be the healthiest eaters on the planet, because there has never been a time in the history of the world when a nation knew so much about nutrition. It’s not about nutrition. It’s about behavior. Once parents start thinking about habits, the answer about what to do becomes so much clearer.”
For more information about Dr. Dina Rose and her book, “It’s Not About the Broccoli,” you can visit her website, itsnotabou
Allison Plitt is a freelance writer who lives in Queens with her husband and young daughter. She is a frequent contributor to New York Parenting.
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